Thursday 25 September 2014

Surely there is more to Mangalyaan than outsourcing ?

On a day when we should be celebrating the great success of our scientists, on a day when I should be shouting from the roof tops about how great this country of mine is and can be, when it wants to be, I am livid.

I am angry reading the narrative about the Mars mission. I am angry that the success is threatening to degenerate into another case study for outsourcing to India, I am angry that we seem to be less proud of what we have achieved, but seem to be gloating over how little we have spent. This is ridiculous.

Thousands of words have been written in indian media and global media alike, comparing the costs of the indian mission with the American mission. Reports are everywhere suggesting that NASA should outsource to India and so on. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with the central theme of that is being played up, about how little we spent.

For me that is the wrong way to approach things. It can be a footnote, that's ok but it cannot take over the main story as it seems to have. The story is about our phenomenal scientists who worked together to pull it off. It is about India's scientific prowess. This is not just a made in india story, it is a made by india story.

When I read about how a new version of a browser was developed by indian engineers in bengaluru or Hyderabad, it is about the coding skills of indian software engineers. We are the tool boys working on the shop floor. It does not offer any supportable inferences about India's technological depth or might.

Mangalyaan does.

Unknown unsung scientists drawn from the public sector have worked with engineers in India's private sector engineering companies to pull is off. It was not just about fabrication, it was the whole package, which was executed because of the quality of scientists that we have in this country. After a long time, we can actually say that there must be something right about science in india, something right that we can build on to make it even better.

It is also a story about Indian women in science. (Eat your words, Larry Summers) It is a story about a country which received adverse mention globally and deservedly so for rape cases but which seems to also have something different going on elsewhere. When women scientists are front and centre of one of the greatest achievements of independent india, it is cause for celebration.

Sure I want india to help other countries with their space programmes. But not because we are cheap but because we can. Because we have a pool of scientists who can, because our science and technology program throws up people who can not just execute but also dream. Because this is part of our foreign policy, to use our scientific and technological strengths to help our friends and to help new friends. Let them start seeing us with respect, in awe of our achievements.

That is the narrative I want to hear.

There is more to Mangalyaan than outsourcing surely.

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